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Film Studies: Girl Interrupted by Susana Kaysen Essay (Movie Review)

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Updated: Mar 23rd, 2020


The film, Girl Interrupted, provides personal experiences of the author, Susana Kaysen, at the McLean Hospital. The film shows cultural context within her life and the people who shaped them.

This film is done by merging events and characters without following a strict linear timeline. She voluntarily commits herself after developing extreme depressive moments, which alter her functioning. She confronts her situation in a psychiatric facility in the McLean Hospital, Massachusetts. The objective of the movie is to depict the symptoms the and characters of antisocial personality disorders.

Main theme and characters

The main themes in the film demonstrate the nature of being sane versus insanity and social nonconformity. Kaysen indicates that she was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder. The characters in the film are either patient diagnosed with antisocial personality disorders or mental healthcare practitioners.

The setting is a psychiatric facility in the McLean Hospital, and the dominant issue in the movie is the nature e of mental disorders. The theme revolves around three main issues from mental breakdown to voluntary commitment, treatment, and an examination of the mental disorders in wide scope concerning other young patients of antisocial personality disorders. Susanna Kaysen is the main character and the narrator in the film.

She is diagnosed with a borderline personality disorder at the age of 17, and finally, she commits herself to confine, but caring environs of a mental health center. In the health center, she meets Lisa, who is a fellow patient, and she commits herself to the role of leading other patients in the ward.

Lisa seems proud of her diagnosis as a sociopath, which is a personality disorder motivated by self-interest. Lisa is the center of interest for fellow girls and hospital staff as she keeps interrupting the usual operations of the hospital. Georgina, Kaysen’s roommate, is a depressed girl, but she often shows a lot of calmness and she establishes a romantic relationship with Wade, who is an unstable and violent patient.

Traits depicted in the movie

This film demonstrates various traits that define individuals experiencing antisocial personality disorders. As Lisa is forced into the psychiatric ward, her traits precisely depict her mental disorder. Lisa portrays arrogance and vehemence, and thus she is forced into the ward in handcuffs implying that she had defied the law.

She does not show any respect to the law enforcers and her hot tempers are reflected in the way she reacts against the psychiatric staff members who escort her into the ward. Sociopaths are both domineering and manipulative (Lewis, 2006). For instance, Lisa is in a position to get whatever she wants from her fellow patients or health care providers. When she cannot get it by force, she knows how to take control and manipulate others to achieve her desires.

Kaysen talks of times when Lisa would convince and assist fellow patients in sneaking out of the premises. Most patients here show a lot of carelessness. Patients diagnosed with a personality disorder do not care about working out to improve their situations. They are ready to give up on medication when they feel like.

For Lisa, she is proud of her situation as a sociopath, and she has no interest in conforming to social norms. Rebellious attitude towards conforming to the psychiatric procedures and guidelines to recovery is another outstanding trait in this film. Individuals with personality disorders, in most cases, have substance disorders. Therefore, smoking to them is not a social taboo, and healthy living does not mean anything of great concern (Rotgers & Maniacci, 2006).

The absence of remorsefulness is one of the key defining traits of personality disorders. Lisa openly talks of her past evil events, steals, deceives, and never shows any signs of guilty. In other words, she is apathetic. She does not portray any sentiment of a second thought and she is not sorry for anything wrong she does against other people.

On the contrary, some patients develop a sense of care and compassion towards other patients. For instance, when Kaysen sees Daisy hanging, she calls an ambulance, which demonstrates sanity. Lisa’s traits in the film correspond with the diagnosis of antisocial personality disorders.

Perceived needs

Patients with personality disorders such as depression and anxiety experience the need for treatment. The young girls manifest minimal interest for perceived need for treatment, but from a viewpoint of the general population, treatment is vital. In the film, before committing herself to the mental facility, Kaysen attempts suicide due to depression. She generates the need to seek treatment even though she later figures out that her mental situation is not critical enough to accredit confinement.

Most patients in the Mclean psychiatric facility express a sense of detachment from oneself as well as the stable population. In a bid to create their own attachment, it is necessary to get the patients back to their real situations so that they can help themselves out of the unstable conditions (Zanarini, 2005). For example, Georgina has generated a sense of detachment to the extent that she cannot feel pain when Kaysen accidentally pours molten sugar on her hand.

The traits portrayed by most characters, such as Lisa demonstrate unmet needs for counseling and social interventions. Psychiatric variables among patients as depicted in the movie show that such individuals need frequent counseling to build a positive perspective towards mental treatment by taking their medication.

The need for psychotherapy is highly developed in the film. Psychotherapy presents perceived relief of depression and treatment. This aspect enables patients to respond by generating a sense of self-worth and social attachment to the general populations (Rotgers & Maniacci, 2006).

Kaysen expresses the need for information and advice. By committing herself to see a psychiatric specialist, she is not sure of her condition until she ends up confined to the psychiatric facility. She is confused between social deviance and insanity. The need for assistance to control emotions is evident throughout the film. For the case of Wade, isolation from others seems to deteriorate the condition.

Helping patients with personality disorders to engage in leisure activities like meeting people and talking to them is therapeutic although few patients have no desire of expressing such needs. However, the most important need is to understand the problems of the patients in a bid to avoid contradictory decisions by doctors as Kaysen discloses regarding her admission to a psychiatric facility. In a recap, it is important to remember that such patients have human needs just like any other normal human being.

Views and correlations

This movie is innovative with surprisingly life-affirming themes. It gives the real picture of the abuses that occur in mental institutions, the defiance of authority, and lack of will to help young women out of their depressive conditions. Kaysen presents the case of any normal young girl in her teenage, who is not ready to conform to the social life that her parents decide for her. Her case is less of a borderline personality disorder, but a victim of self-pitying and agitation.

Kaysen’s desire to understand her condition shows how the society in her time has little support for young girls. Society simply wants girls to conform. The movie provides a clear picture of the expectations and roles of women. It is always challenging for young girls like Kaysen to be in a position of being not sure of what they want and survive in this goal-obsessed society. Women face numerous challenges, and no one is ready to help them.

Also, they are automatically assigned predetermined roles (Lewis, 2006). Kaysen is against such a discriminative society and she knows the norms will not fit her lifestyle.

She ends up being diagnosed with a borderline personality disorder. This aspect implies that lack of social support and counseling might lead to borderline personality disorders when victims give up the struggle with sanity. The film links up well with recent studies on borderline personality disorders and it is consistent with studies done on the nature of antisocial personality disorder.


This film suggests that one’s environment, familial conditions, and social norms can be major contributors to the development of borderline personality disorders. Lack of social support and counseling to girls during their teen age might lead to personality disorders, which can be avoided with proper measures.

Kaysen shows that the hospital has limited choices available to young girls. Women experience prejudice and role discrimination. Before entering the hospital, Kaysen faces job inequalities, and she is forced to follow a strict dress code. These social constructs form some of the factors that confuse her to the extent of developing a borderline disorder.


Lewis, C. (2006). Treating Incarcerated Women: Gender Matters. Psychiatric Clinics, 29(3), 773-789.

Rotgers, F., & Maniacci, M. (2006). Antisocial Personality Disorder: A Practitioner’s Guide to Comparative Treatments. New York, NY: Springer.

Zanarini, C. (2005). Borderline Personality Disorder. New York, NY: Taylor & Francis.

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